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Sep 08, 2017

Air Pollution Quickly Puts Added Stress on the Body

Breathing in polluted air for just a short period of time can have immediate health consequences.

Breathing in polluted air for just a short period of time puts added stress on the body, based on a Chinese study that studied the short-term health effects of fine particulate matter.

Fine particulate matter is tiny particles in the air that can be inhaled and go deep into the lungs. It is one of the most dangerous types of air pollution that has been linked to increased risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

In a recent study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, researchers explored the driving force behind these adverse health effects. Findings suggest that even days of exposure to fine particulate matter triggers stress hormones, changes in metabolism and inflammation.

Conducted in 2015, this study included 55 young, healthy students living in college dorms at the Fudan University in Shanghai, China. The study used air purifiers to manipulate air quality in the dorms and test the short-term impact of air pollution on key markers of health.

On two separate occasions, participants had both a real and fake air purifier in their dorm rooms for nine days.  The real air purifier helped remove fine particulate matter from the air, while the sham device had no impact on air quality. During these periods, researchers tracked blood pressure and took blood samples to assess changes in stress hormones, metabolism, and inflammation.

Overall, the real air purifiers cut exposure to fine particulate matter in half when compared to the fake devices. After analysis, researchers found that greater exposure to fine particulate matter was associated with changes in metabolism and an increase in stress hormones. Researchers also note that greater exposure to air pollution increased blood pressure, blood sugar and markers of inflammation—all of which can increase cardiovascular risk.

According to authors, findings demonstrate a possible way by which air pollution leads to increased cardiovascular risk. Evidence suggests that fine particulate matter triggers stress hormones, which over time may increase risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

However, findings also suggest that air purifiers effectively reduce exposure to air pollution at home, which could potentially minimize health effects down the road. With future research, experts hope to better understand the health effects of fine particulate matter and continue to identify strategies for minimizing exposure.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I reduce inflammation?

  • Although some drugs might help reduce inflammation, reducing risk factors that cause inflammation is important, like quitting smoking, reducing blood pressure and lowering cholesterol.
  • How is inflammation linked to heart health?
  • Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or infection. Although it’s not proven that inflammation actually causes heart disease, research shows that many heart disease patients have heightened markers of inflammation. It’s possible that inflammation may be a sign of heart disease or a response to it, and further research is needed to better understand the role of inflammation on cardiovascular risk.


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